Mamma mia

If any of you have had the displeasure of an enforced visit to retail hell that is Ikea then the furthest thing from your mind would be to extol its virtues online let alone start up a fan blog site. But this is what Jules Yap from Malaysia did in 2006, starting up a blog that shows innovative ways to customise Ikea’s furniture and creating a large online community in doing so.

If you haven’t already heard the news, Ikea recently issued a ‘cease and desist’ order as, in their view, the site ‘infringes on its intellectual property rights’. Legally speaking this is completely correct and Ikea are well within their rights to do so. But this site was harmless, in fact quite clearly a huge advantage to the Swedish chain, providing years of free publicity and building a community around the brand that would be difficult for the company to achieve themselves.

I mean what’s better than a third party independent endorsement? Most companies would kill for this. And it isn’t some small blogging site (like this one), it attracted approximately 180,000 visitors per week! It was a pure fan site.

Instead of sending out a legal warning Ikea should embrace Ms Yap, see if there are ways they can use this kerfuffle to their advantage. It’s not too late to recover if they play it smart and also do the decent thing.

Ikea aren’t the first company to misunderstand online communities and their worth, in the past couple of years there have been a number of stories of corporate entities sending out legal notices to fan sites – Nutella infamously did the same last year.

One company that seems to get it is Lego. They actively embrace their fans, even allowing them into the marketing process, to help design future products and leveraging the content they create. They have created hundreds of fan clubs so they can get feedback directly from their fan base, while also engaging meaningfully with powerful advocates of their brand and products.

Hopefully Ikea will wake up, smell the cheap Swedish coffee and reverse their legal proceedings – but I’m not holding my breath.

Vinyl-records

Probably not the best title for this blog as Rolf Harris and various other celebrities under go some pretty torrid allegations but it does sum up this blog in a nutshell.

I’m what you would call an early adopter. First in line to preorder the latest iOS device and Playstation, so I’m not adverse to using the latest technology. I’m saying this to set the scene, to show i’m not a technophobe.

But like probably every reader out there I am increasingly downloading films, video games, music and books and I enjoy the convenience of doing so.

But when recently buying ‘Frozen’ for my daughter as a treat for doing so well at school, it got me thinking what a shallow experience it was for her to receive….. absolutely nothing! No wrapped blu-ray box in appropriate cute wrapping paper, nothing physically to hold in her hand.

So why didn’t you buy her the blu-ray then I hear you cry! Well, I wanted for her to be able to seamlessly view the movie on our TV (via Apple TV) and also to have it on an iPad so she could watch in on long trips. Convenience.

But are we sacrificing too much for the sake of convenience? Even vouchers now rarely come in a card, they are emailed, another tactile experience gone. And does this lack of a psychical product diminish the value of work that went into creating it?

For me when I was young the experience of owning an album on vinyl (showing my age) was a great thing. You felt the value and the effort that went into every part of it, from the design of the album sleeve to the pressing of the vinyl. Now with digital that is cheapened. Artwork is downsized and easily ignored.

The same with books, sadly I used to pick my next book by the artwork on the cover, and for me, still, the best experience in reading is with an actual book in my hand. Although I do it less and less.

I’m not saying digital isn’t progess and that I don’t embrace it myself. I just lament that my daughter won’t experience (or less so) the joy of touching and owning those things because that’s what makes them great. But maybe that’s just me getting old.

By Stephen Fairweather

Future_is_mobile

ING recently released an interesting international survey entitled ‘Financial empowerment in the digital age‘. It threw up some interesting findings about the future of banking but these findings don’t just apply to retail banking but to all financial service providers.

As Whitney Houston once sang ‘I believe the children are our future’ and nothing could be truer when it comes to researching future trends. The ING research shows that mobile banking has the highest uptake in the 25 – 34 age group – with 50% using it. Suggesting mobile will become increasingly popular in the future.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a shock as there have been a multitude of surveys proving that mobile usage in all areas is growing fast.

But what was more interesting for me was that, for under 25s, a whopping 40% said they expect banks to make it possible to do payments via social media. When you break down social media usage in this age group the above stat isn’t surprising as 65% of those surveyed considered themselves high users of social media (logging on at least once a day).

When asked what they expected from banks on social media, the survey also showed that 70% wanted to receive tips on how to save, 61% wanted to receive communication on Corporate Social Responsibility, 56% wanted information about the economy and how it affects them and 55% wanted their banks to interact with their comments.

ING Social Media research

This last point really stands out for me, respondents are saying they don’t just want one way communication, they want to have a relationship with their banks.

When asked how they currently use social media, 39% use it to get general information, with 32% using it to complain about bad service. Believe you me, you can only expect these figures to get higher in the future.

These findings show that financial services company can’t ignore mobile and social media, they aren’t going away, they are the future whether you like it or not. The sooner you get prepared and build a digital strategy the better, otherwise you will get left behind those that do.

By Stephen Fairweather

in death do us part

Recently a friend of mine came across a deceased ex-colleague on his LinkedIn account and it got me thinking about what happens to our digital footprint once we are gone and how we can make sure the accounts are shutdown or the personal data and assets within them passed on to our nearest and dearest.

Trawling through the major social media platforms they all seem to share the same view point, that is they won’t allow access to the account or give out passwords or transfer any of the content to the next of kin but accounts can be deactivated.

To deactivate accounts there are different levels of procedures depending on the company. For example LinkedIn allows any user to complete a Verification of Death form which when completed and verified shuts down their account.

Twitter’s process is more complicated, asking for the twitter account name, a copy of the death certificate, a signed statement and a drivers license of the person requesting the deletion to prove that they are a relation. For such a modern platform they strangely insist on you either faxing or mailing the documents.

Facebook like the above won’t provide login information but you can, once verified, either request the removal of the account but you have to provide the deceased’s birth and death certificate and proof that you are the lawful representative of the estate, or you can allow them to memorialise the account, this means that no one can log into the account and depending on their privacy settings it will allow friends to post messages to the timeline.

But what about the assets that have been uploaded? Most people will have amassed a considerable amount of photos during their lifetime online, how do you get hold of these?

Unfortunately the law doesn’t seem to have caught up with modern life yet so ownership of digital content is still a grey area with most providers not allowing it to passed on to your relatives. A high profile example of this is Bruce Willis’ campaign to pass his iTunes collection on to his daughters.

If your digital life is important to you it only seems sensible to include your wishes in your Will this should include your current passwords. Or there are companies out there like Legacy Locker that provide a secure repository for your digital content and allow access in the event of your death.

Either way it is clear, if you care about your digital assets you should plan and spell out in legal documentation what you want done after you have gone, otherwise your digital ghost could come back to haunt your nearest and dearest when they least expect it.

By Stephen Fairweather

As everyone is aware, this has been a bad week for Instagram, it all started earlier in the week when they changed their terms of service without notifying its users. The rewritten rules gave them ‘perpetual’ rights to use any photo you took via the service in advertising without consultation or compensation.

Now my life is pretty boring, I work long hours and outside of work I have one major interest, my family. Thus my Instagram account was full of pictures of them especially my 5 year old daughter. Reading the news I reacted angrily and decided to close my account and urged others to do the same.

Image

But the whole fiasco led me to think how naive we are as consumers in the social media space on who or what owns our content. Like never before we publicly display all sorts of personal information we wouldn’t dream of publishing in any other format and this private data is what makes Google and Facebook so profitable. I mean we all know companies like Google and Facebook make their money by recording and mining huge amounts of private data, and selling this on to third parties, mainly advertisers.

And these social media platforms have the power to change the rules whenever they want. As Michael Taggart wrote back in April 2011 you don’t own your Facebook page, Facebook does and can decide to delete it or change the rules whenever it feels like it. The only thing stopping them is the threat of losing vast amount of customers thus losing their precious data.

Facebook continually tests the waters with new iterations of its platform and its terms of service to see how accepting users are, and they don’t exactly publicise it either, so this week shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise.

Because of the huge wave of negative reaction and publicity, Instagram have apparently retracted the newly written terms and rolled back to the terms from 2010. All good you say. I think not. According to Digital Times, the terms from 2010 still include the rights to use your photos in advertising without your permission. So don’t believe the hype.

By Stephen Fairweather

It has been an interesting few weeks with social media hitting the headlines on a number of occasions.

There was the case of Oprah Winfrey tweeting her love for the new Microsoft tablet Surface stating she liked it so much she was going to buy a dozen to hand out as Christmas presents to her closest friends and family but alas the tweet was found to have been sent from her iPad. Oprah and Microsoft own goal me thinks.

Then there was the expose from The Guardian that found out that Wonga employees had set up anonymous Twitter accounts to attack MP Stella Creasy calling her ‘mental’ and ‘nuts’ because of her campaign against the firm and the payday loans market. Wonga since has had to publicly apologise and promote a debt advice clinic in Creasy’s own constituency of Walthamstow. Another own goal.

There was also the case of Adrian Smith, a Christian who worked as a manager for Trafford Housing Trust (TNT). In February 2011, outside of work hours, Adrian posted a link on his Facebook page to a BBC website article entitled ‘Gay church marriages get go ahead’, with this comment ‘An equality too far’. In reply some colleagues asked him to explain himself which in reply he posted ‘I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church.’

These comments that were not visible to the general public were enough in his employer’s mind to demote him from his managerial role, cut his salary by 40% and give him a final written warning.

Smith subsequently took TNT to court and won his case against breach of contract and was awarded a measly £100.

Whatever you think of Mr Smith’s comments they weren’t hostile or abusive and not open for all to view. They don’t fall into the same category as the Wonga tweets or the many trolls and abusive users that sometime frequent these platforms.

This case neatly illustrates the problems organisations have in understanding social media and how they should deal with it. For sure all companies should have a social media policy, which actually TNT did seem to have, but it clearly wasn’t descriptive or detailed enough for them to make the wrong judgement.

All employee’s need to know the boundaries that their employer places on their social media communications if not than the company has no excuse when someone strays over the line. In fact it should be part of every new employee’s induction programme.

But it’s not just your current employers that care about your social media footprint but also future employers.  You are very naïve if you think that companies or the recruitment companies they employ won’t use social media to research your background before they decide to employ you.

So don’t post anything on your Facebook page or any platform that you wouldn’t want a potential employee to see, it’s just not worth it.

By Stephen Fairweather

A lot has been written this week about the so called ridicule Waitrose suffered on Twitter after running a campaign to complete the tweet “I shop at Waitrose because….” , encouraging users to use the hashtag #WaitroseReasons.

While Waitrose did receive some serious responses it seems on the whole they got a host of hilarious tweets playing up to the ‘posh’ image of the shop.

For example @amoozbouche tweeted ‘I shop at Waitrose because it makes me feel important and I absolultely detest being surrounded by poor people’ and ‘I also shop at Waitrose because I was once in the Holloway Rd branch and heard a dad say ‘Put the papaya down, Orlando!’

I won’t publish all of the tweets but you can imagine what the others said.

This was seen in many quarters as a massive social media fail with Sebastian Joseph in Marketing Week suggesting that it ‘brings into sharp focus the worrying lack of understanding that some brands still have about how to use the micro-blogging site.’

I disagree I think Waitrose knew exactly what they were doing and the resulting impact from it has done them no harm whatsoever.

Let’s think what would have happened if the campaign had generated just straight laced replies. Sure they would have been seen by their already signed up twitter followers as caring and sharing but that would have been that and nothing much gained from it.

Instead they have managed to receive massive amounts of national news coverage not only online but in print and news coverage and they also managed to promote to other Waitrose customers that they have an active social media offering.

Yes Waitrose have been trying to project an image of providing an affordable option by price matching some of its products and that the resulting tweets only emphasized the upmarket nature of the store but all the news stories mentioned this, getting the message across to all that read it.

The only criticism I would level at them is that I think they should have leveraged the amusing responses more on their social media channels perhaps by awarding a prize to the funniest tweet.

I for one only shop in Waitrose occasionally, wishing I could do it more often. After all at the end of the day who would you rather be shopping with Wayne and Waynetta or Henry and Henrietta?

And as for the news coverage, as one of their rivals say ‘Every little helps.’

 

By Stephen Fairweather

What a week for ‘follicley” challenged Wayne Rooney, on Tuesday night he headed in from less than 6 yards to be installed as a national hero, then, only a few days later he and Nike were slapped down by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for incorrectly advertising on twitter.

To set the scene, earlier in the year the ASA received a complaint about the following tweet, stating that the tweet wasn’t “identifiable as marketing communications”.

“My resolution – to start the year as a champion, and finish it as a champion…#makeitcount gonike.me/makeitcount”.

The ASA quite rightly upheld the complaint and the watchdog, for the first time, banned a Twitter campaign.

Apart from the legal breach of the advertising code this also broke the unofficial rule of Twitter ‘Thou shall not advertise’. In a week that should have seen Rooney gain Twitter followers, it actually saw him lose followers. Before the controversy he had over 4.8 million followers – a quick look yesterday showed that he had lost at least 400,000 followers and all because he wasn’t open and honest and broke that unofficial rule.

The headlines around this and the subsequent ruling showed that promoting via social media is still in its infancy and that companies are still trying to guage how far they can go without stepping over the line. It shows that even a media savvy company like Nike still haven’t got this medium sussed, thus illustrating the dilemma facing every marketing or advertising team out there.

However, all this has actually damaged Rooney far more then it has Nike. People and companies need to be careful if they don’t want to damage their brand. Rooney should be using the medium to talk to his fan base, not turning them off by selling out to his sponsors. He may have been able to grow back his hair but he won’t be able to grow back his Twitter community quite so easily, especially if he continues to score own goals and ignore the commandment ‘Thou shall not advertise’.

By Stephen Fairweather

As a follow up to last week’s ‘Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble‘ blog on the Facebook IPO, I thought I would take a look in further detail on the crazy valuations currently floating around Silicon Valley on a few of the well known start ups.

As I write there has been a massive correction in the Facebook share price from its over-valued launch price of $38. It briefly hit the heady heights of $43 before settling back down to $38 at the end of the first day of trading, and this is only because the underwriters were propping it up.

Subsequently, it is sitting below $32 meaning that Zuckerberg would have lost a cool couple of billion in his personal wealth as a result.

In my view $32 is still too high a valuation. Don’t get me wrong, Facebook will be a profitable business for years to come, and has a sound business model, but it has a long way to go to justify its current share price.

Not so long ago Facebook bought mobile photo-sharing app Instagram for around $1 billion. I use Instagram and I think it’s an amazing app, but how could you possibly value it at $1 billion?

Yes it has 30 million users. Yes it managed to grow to that size in only 18 months. But it has no revenue. Facebook couldn’t have bought Instagram for its user base as it has 901 million users itself. So it must have bought it for the tech. But surely they could have created a similar app themselves? So why didn’t they? Crazy.

Then there’s Pinterest. Another social network I love. It has seen massive growth in under 12 months. In July of last year it had approximately 1 million users, today it has over 20 million. This week it managed to raise $100 million in capital, valuing it at $1.5 billion. This is for a company that has virtually no revenue.

So why are these companies being valued at such crazy prices? Probably because investors don’t want to miss out on the next Facebook, where a number of early investors have made a shed load of money.

One example, according to the Wall Street Journal, is Accel Partners, who invested $12.7 million in Facebook in 2005, its investment is now worth a staggering $7.7 billion.

But how many of the Silicon Valley start ups are going to provide a real return on their investment? The odds are not many. So you have to ask yourself one question ‘Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?’.

By Stephen Fairweather

Facebook’s proposed Initial Public Offering (IPO) is due to take place on May 18th, however according to latest reports this may be pushed back because of a delay in getting regulatory approval.

For those of you who have been on a different planet for the past month, Facebook plan to sell 180 million shares valued between $28 to $35, valuing the company at a whopping $96 billion.

Should the shares sell for $35 then shareholders will be paying 99 times Facebook’s earnings. Let me say that again 99 times Facebook’s earnings. Crazy. When it comes to technology and social media the stock market tends to lose all sense.

Don’t get me wrong, Facebook has a lot of potential. As of the end of March, it had 901 million people using it on a monthly basis and 526 million daily users.

But only last week it announced what effectively was a profit warning, when first quarter 2012 profits dropped 12% to $205m from $233m a year earlier, this despite revenue rising 45% in the same period and advertising revenue up by 37%.

But costs grew from $343 million to $677 million because of investment in expanding data centres and recruitment in sales and marketing.

In the same announcement they also highlighted that mobile usage had increased, a cause for concern, because as of yet, they haven’t got mobile right, the experience is clunky and unfriendly but more importantly to revenue, they haven’t worked out a way of introducing advertising. The $1 billion acquisition of Instagram (another crazy valuation) was supposed to help with the user mobile experience but this could be delayed by up to a year because of a competition probe from the FTC.

You could argue that when they do get it mobile right revenue will increase dramatically, but I’m doubtful of advertising revenue. Who out there uses Facebook and clicks on a paid ad? I’ve never done it.

Another cause for concern is that when Facebook does float on the stock exchange, Mark Zuckerberg retains 57% of the shares, meaning he still has complete control over the company, and can do whatever he pleases. Is this good? Sounds a bit like News Corporation to me. And does a man who is quite clearly a talented technician have the know how to run a multi billion company. I’m not sure.

The social media space is also highly competitive and there are new entrants all the time. Look at Pinterest. But one thing Facebook has in its favour is the barrier to entry its competitors face to persuade Facebook’s users to switch. I personally love Google+  but without an easy way to port your Facebook friends across it will never persuade users to switch.

At the end of the day does the share price reflect fair value for its current size and its near to medium term growth prospects? No it doesn’t, it’s way over valued and that’s what most people should be asking before investing in what could be one huge bubble.